The Olympic Games are one of the most spectacular reminders of the debt we owe to the Greeks.
The original Olympic Games were held every four years in honour of Zeus, the supreme god of Greek religion. The first record of the games dates from 776 B.C., but it is certain that they existed prior to that. They were held continuously for over 1.000 years until they were abolished in the reign of King Theodosius about 392 A.D. The Olympic festival was a great unifying bond between the Independent city-states of Greece.
The important sports in the original Olympic Games were running, jumping, wrestling, throwing the discus and throwing the javelin. Only men competed and they wore no clothes in order to have greater freedom of movement. Each competitor had to take the Olympic Oath - a promise to behave in a sportsman-like fashion.
The modern Olympic era began in 1894 when Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin decided to revive the ancient Greek tradition of celebrating health, youth and peace with a sports festival. Baron de Coubertin created the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the first modem Olympiad took place in Athens in 1896. Since then the Olympic Games have been held every four years with only two exceptions because of the two world wars.
Even though the modern Olympic Games embrace the whole world, the connection with Greece is still very strong. A lighted torch is brought all the way from Greece, carried by a relay of runners, in order to light the Olympic Flame which bums all through the Games. As in ancient Greek times, the competitors still take the Olympic Oath. The long-distance race is still called the Marathon. Marathon was a village about 26 miles from Athens. In the year 490 BC the Greeks defeated a powerful Persian army at that spot. After the fierce day's fighting a soldier volunteered to bring news of the victory to the anxious citizens of Athens. He ran all the way and after gasping out the message. "Rejoice, we conquer!" he collapsed and died.
One important rule of the Olympic Games is that the competitors must be amateurs. This rule has been under a lot of pressure in recent years because modem sport is so professional and competitive. Athletes train for years to take part in the Olympics and some countries spend much more than others on equipment and facilities. But despite these pressures, the amateur rule remains.
In modern times the Olympic movement has become an enormous and expensive organisation, It's controlled by the International Olympic Committee, which consists of members from all the participating countries. The IOC is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. It chooses the locations of both summer and winter games (both take place once very four years, with winter games half a year before summer Olympiads). It also controls the rules of the competitions and selects new Olympic sports. The famous flag of the IOC shows five rings of different colours linked together. The rings represent the five continents.